15 February 2014

2014: THE LIGHT ... Is Love

Good Evening Friends,

I pray you had a tremendously blessed Saturday and that the rest of your weekend will be enjoyable. Yesterday was a fantastic day – it was Valentine’s Day. And for as long as I can recall, it has been my favorite holiday behind Christmas. I absolutely love a day completely dedicated to demonstrating how much you love others. Truthfully, this is something which should be done consistently – although, perhaps not on the scale of Valentine’s Day with all the balloons and candy and special dinners. Yet, the love we feel for others should be demonstrated every day with the same excitement, passion, creativeness, selflessness and intention which is present on Valentine’s Day. For you see … THE LIGHT IS LOVE.

The light which shines bright and penetrates the hearts of men and women is the light which reflects the overwhelming and unconditional love of God. The LORD God loves people –

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:16-21

The light which shines bright and penetrates the hearts of men and women is the light which reflects the selfless redeeming love of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ loves people –

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’ I John 3:16

‘For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross Hebrews 12:2

The Bible consistently tells us how He had compassion on the people and loving way that He gave his life for all mankind. His light of love was visible to all.

He had equal status with God but did not think so much of Himself that He had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, He stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He did not claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.’
Philippians 2:7-8 MSG

The light which shines bright and penetrates the hearts of men and women is the light which reflects the powerful and enabling love of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit loves and equips people –

'Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.' II Cor 3:17

The Spirit of the LORD frees us from the yoke of bondage and enables us to live a life worthy of the call of Christ. For it is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). We are equipped with what we need to love people as God loves people. In everything we do – sharing the gospel, giving a gift, working diligently, serving the public – we are empowered by His Spirit.

Therefore, being consistent with the light and love we have been freely given, we should freely shine the light and demonstrate love to those who have been placed in our life. Christians should be the most generous, kind, hard-working and loving people around. And we do not have to wait for a special day to show love for others … we can do it any time.

A day of love … any day … every day … and always

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

12 February 2014

Journal Entry ... Power Within

‘In all things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’

Romans 8:37

08 February 2014

2014:THE LIGHT ... Power Outage

Happy Saturday!

I pray your week was productive, letting the love of Christ shine in you and through you. And, if you do not know Christ, I pray that the light of God touched your life this week. Now, if you have visited this blog before, you know my aim is to be as transparent as possible. This week was a bit of a challenge for me. I experienced what I would call a slight power outage on Thursday. Understand, there was nothing wrong with the power source – Christ. There was a ‘connectivity issue’ … from my end.

Somehow, in a sinful instant of gratifying the flesh instead of the spirit, I allowed demands which were being placed upon me to cause a momentary short-circuit. It resulted in me being short with a few people as I was not nearly as patient as I could have been or should have been. Now, I immediately repented and went back to apologize to those individuals. Yet, it got me thinking about what we need to do to avoid any flickering or variation of the light we shine for Christ … and what to do when, despite our best efforts, we have a less than shining moment.

MAINTAIN – A steady connection with the power source must be maintained at all times. This cannot be said enough or emphasized too strongly. Bible reading, prayer, praise, worship, reflection & meditation all do an effective job in keeping us connected to the LORD God Almighty. There is a need to reflect upon the love demonstrated by Christ and to draw upon the power which is made available to us through the Holy Spirit. ‘Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face forevermore!’ (I Chr. 16:11)

MONITOR – Situations and circumstances must be monitored and there must be an anticipation of how they might impact one’s life. Like an electric company preparing for poor weather, we must understand and foresee that there will be times when increased demands for light will be placed upon our resources. We must prepare in advance to minimize the likelihood of any power outages or to avoid them altogether. Scripture tells us that we are not ignorant of the enemy’s devices (II Cor. 2:11) and that we should not think it strange when trials come (I Peter 4:12-13). We should be looking and anticipating … and planning a godly response before a demand is made.

MANAGE – Godly responses can be achieved as we manage our light by remaining in a constant state of readiness. Many of us are familiar with the verse in Ephesians telling us to put on the whole armor of God. However, I like how The Message Version of that same text reads:  And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon.' Eph. 6:11-17 MSG 

As stated above, there are times when we will miss the mark. And it is during those times where we have an almost equal opportunity to shine the light we should have had glowing all along.  There will be times when we must … MEND

So what does this mending require?

Immediate response – Ephesians 4:26 tells us, ‘do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ This lets us know that our response, and part of repairing any damage that has been done, is to respond with a sense of urgency. We must turn immediately from anything which does not or has not reflected His glory. Further, we must extend the reach of our response – not only making things right with God, but making things right with man. ‘I AM SORRY…’ These are three little words which can go a very long way when delivered timely and with sincerity.

Restoration of Power – We must go back into maintenance mode a thousand times per day. Through prayer, fasting, repentance and godly perspective, we can restore our connection to the Power Source. Again, there is never anything wrong with The Source. He is glorious and perfect, shining bright at all times. The problem arises when we allow the situations of life to impact us to the point where we no longer allow Him to shine through us (see Luke 11:33).

Effective Damage Control – Go back to the individual or individuals to ensure all is back on track. We cannot be effective ministers of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18) if there is discord … much worse if we are the cause of that discord. Luke 17:1 tells us, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! Therefore, ‘if possible, as far as it depend on you [on all of us], live at peace with everyone.' (Rom. 12:18)

Restoration of Service – The restoration of service is different from the restoration of power. Our connection with and submission to the source of power, Jesus, is our focus in restoring power. Our connection to others and our services to them – shining the light of Christ – is the focus in restoring service. I Kings 19 conveys to us the story of the powerful prophet Elijah who had just come off the heels of an amazing victory for the kingdom of God (I Kings 18:18-40). However, in this section of scripture, Elijah has appeared to have lost some focus, causing him to respond in an uncharacteristic manner – frustrated, fearful, over-emotional, full of self-pity and weary to the point of death. Yet, the LORD’s instruction [after addressing some of Elijah’s physical and spiritual needs] was for him to ‘get back to work.’ Elijah responded … and so too must we.

I pray you have tremendously blessed weekend and week.
Keep that Light Shining!

God Bless …

01 February 2014

2014: The Light... 'all ... not every'

‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ Phil. 4:13

Such an empowering verse …

However, there is a difference between being able to do all things one is confronted with – through the power of Christ – and being able to do everything. Over the past couple of weeks, we have talked about the light and what that means to each of us individually. We have also looked, in part, at what shining the light looks like at home. Today, we talk about the light in the context of church life.

Psalm 92:13-14 tells us, ‘Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.’

There is indeed a flourishing which comes from being firmly planted in the house of the LORD, growing in the house of the LORD, serving in the house of the LORD. I have experienced it in my life in my home church. Yet, there is also a very delicate balance which must be maintained.

While service in church is needed to facilitate the advancement of kingdom priorities and to fulfill our role as ‘ministers of reconciliation’ (II Cor. 5:8) – it is a poor substitute for actually being in relationship with the King of the kingdom. We see evidence of this in scripture in the story of Martha. In Luke 10 we see her frustrated with the responsibilities of ministry, demanding that Jesus make her sister help. In John chapter twelve, following the death and resurrection of her brother Lazarus, we find Martha doing what she does best – serving, again. The sad thing is that Martha, despite having close fellowship with Jesus, appears to have continued in her struggle of balancing work with worship.

Even so – I must stand alongside every Martha and, at the very least, see things from their perspective: Somebody has got to do the work ... we cannot all lie at the feet of Jesus all day long.

There is a long standing ‘statistical generalization’ which states that 80% of the work in most churches is performed by 20% of the people. While I do not know how accurate that statistic is, many can agree that it, at the very least is on the target somewhere, even if it is not the bulls-eye. Many would also agree that it is not indicative of church health but of spiritual dysfunction.

Scripture plainly tells us that we all have gifts differing (Romans 12:6). It goes on to tell us that we all being different parts, with varying responsibilities – make up the church of Christ, the body of Christ.

Therefore, the next logical question is:

Since we all are different parts and have different roles, why does the problem persist, why does a mouth have to do double-duty as a foot or hand? Why is it that all are not shining their light, doing their part? Simple question …. Multi-faceted answer

Therefore, let us start at the top …

THE LEADERSHIP – There is a quote attributed to motivational speaker John Maxwell which states that ‘Everything rises and falls on leadership.’ And, while I do not co-sign to this sentiment 100%, there is some truth to the statement. Leaders do have an added responsibility. In a post I shared several months ago, I noted the following regarding leadership:
‘To lead is to live a life under intense scrutiny – no matter what you do. There is unimaginable opposition and true leadership requires constant covering and protection. Leaders are not perfect … yet they have taken on the often thankless position of leading.’
With that said, PLEASE understand that I am not attacking leadership. Leaders and followers alike are blessed with the same gift of free-will granted to us by the LORD God Almighty. Each person must own their individual decisions and the consequences – favorable or unfavorable – of those choices. Unfortunately, in the area of serving and letting one’s light shine in the house of God, leaders often find themselves wedged between the difficult place of managing all the responsibilities which facilitate ministry and the more difficult place of finding fully-engaged co-laborers who will assume some of the responsibility.
Recognizing and applauding the results that many in church leadership are able to accomplish, I would be missing the point of our 2014 The Light series if I did not focus on areas where we can improve, where we can shine brighter. I say we, because I am at all times both a leader and follower, in every area of my life – church, home and work. In the coming weeks and months we will look at ‘The Light of the Leader’ from an all-encompassing standpoint. However, for today, let me say that there are many church leaders who unwittingly contribute to the problem that they face.  Subject to human nature – like every other human – a leader will not go to an empty well attempting to draw water. Hence, the leader, when he or she has found a well that produces potable water, will frequent that well – because it is reliable, there is not hard labor involved in retrieving what is needed and it serves the process of quenching the various thirsts associated with ministry. The problem with this approach is the fact that many good wells have been run completely dry as a result. Then, to add insult to injury, the response of the leader is typically not one of thankfulness for the many benefits which came from the well. Rather, the unintentional response from leadership is, ‘Unfruitful well, how come you are not producing anymore!?!’ All the while, a completely untapped well lies dormant with no demands made upon it from leadership. It happens in homes, it happens in business and it happens in churches. It is not an easy task to overcome, by any measure, yet an intentional effort must be made to somehow reach and cultivate the untapped wells. Again, we will delve deeper into this area in the future posts.

THE LAY LEADERS – These are the wells that the leadership tap. They are faithful servants, stepping up to answer the call and meet the needs of ministry. These are individuals – most often – who are spiritually mature, who identify with the mission and values of a particular church group and, most importantly, have a heart for God and people. I say ‘most often’ because the faithful who serve, are not always spiritually mature. Some are spiritually dysfunctional and find involvement in multiple ministries as a way to fulfill a need to be needed. There are also those who, rather than identifying with the mission and values of church establishment, are jockeying for influence and are covertly undermining and tearing away at the fiber of what they claim to support. Then there are those who simply have not learned how to say ‘no’.
Not to add one more task to your plate – but, as a lay leader, it must be understood that we share in the responsibility of equitable distribution of work. One cannot, like Martha, run around doing everything and then become bitter, complaining ‘LORD, make her help!’ We all have choices. Yet, it does not have to be an all-or-nothing situation. We have the ability to be balanced, to protect our light so that it may consistently shine bright and not be dimmed. We also have a responsibility to help mentor and disciple others – to help them shine their own light.

Lastly, there are …

THE LAYING AROUND – These are the untapped wells. They do not fail to produce because there is no water there. They fail to produce because they have been allowed to do so. Their actions [again, intentional or unintentional] are tolerated by peers, by leadership and by themselves. Whether influenced by inexperience, spiritual immaturity, fear or selfishness, they appear all too content to sit and warm a pew/seat. Now, please do not misunderstand me. There will be seasons, for every individual, where you may not be serving officially in an area of ministry. This is not what I am talking about. I am referencing individuals who have been at the same church for five years and have never done anything beyond showing up for church and ministry functions to be served. II Thessalonians 3:10 tells us that a man should not eat if he is unwilling to work. Practically, even the laying-around, can understand this sentiment. Spiritually applied, however, it may be more difficult to grasp a concept of one being unable to benefit from the preached word, the worship and the multitude of ministry services, if one was unwilling to work. What would that look like? The same Spirit that resides in the pastor, the Spirit which raised Christ from the dead, is alive in every believer. Therefore, it hard to imagine any believer being completely inactive with respect to shining light inside and outside of the church. But, we will tackle that in future posts as well.

This is one of the longest posts I have written in quite some time. Yet, I have only barely scratched the surface of shining the light as the church. Throughout the year, we will take bite-sized bits of this topic and we will, through purposeful action, visit the entire matter. However, whether a leader, lay-leader or ‘the laying around’, we each have a charge today:

Shine the light of Christ … in who you are and in how you serve.

And remember, while you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength … you cannot do everything. No leader can do everything, no lay-leader can do everything and no laying-around person should want to stay in that state. For every person, irrespective of role in the body, there must be a commitment to continual growth in Christ. This requires time, energy and resources. Understanding that, let us all work together to ensure that each person is shining their brightest. I assure you, we will experience fewer blown out bulbs and fewer dried up wells. Further, the light which will emanate from the church, into the world, will be even brighter.

Have an Abundantly Blessed Day!